Friday, September 20, 2013

The Longest Journey

Today, while practicing for the national implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act , I tried to have a prescription filled in New York City.

I went to my local community health center, as you do for these things nowadays, when you desire to obtain a controlled substance legally. My local community couldn’t find my prescription in the local community safe, although they had a record that the prescription had been called-in and signed by a certain responsible individual (my doctor) the day before.

The nameless woman I was speaking to at the desk summoned a file clerk. The file clerk, Carlos, took off in an elevator to determine where my prescription was hiding. Since Carlos was the only other person in the place with a name, besides my doctor (who was missing) and me (who was definitely there), I followed his progress with relief. I could watch the numbers on the elevator indicator traveling up and down from where I was standing. Carlos seemed to be having fun, spending a little time chatting with anonymous friends on every floor. I had seen something similar in a Laurel and Hardy film once.

When Carlos finally returned, he came panting out of the stairwell. I realized that I had been fooled by the blinking lights. He was doing his best. Carlos was very friendly, very apologetic, and he smiled. A smile always goes a long way with me, even when I am annoyed.

I took the sweaty prescription to the in-house pharmacy, seeing what hard work Carlos had done, and to show I had no hard feelings against him (as an individual) or my community. The cute pharmacist said that it would take about fifteen minutes to fill and gave me a sleek little black beeper, which I slid into my pocket.

I went back out to the lobby. I sat down beside a duct-taped slash on a tattered vinyl seat, and I pulled a book from my messenger bag, and I tried reading to pass the time. Right now, I am reading The Longest Journey, the third of five novels written by E.M. Forster, the one that nobody reads. Like the rest of humanity, I really couldn’t concentrate on The Longest Journey either. I had this niggling feeling that I had forgotten to tell the pharmacist something. About an allergy? An adverse reaction I once had to sulfa drugs as a child? No. It wasn’t that. It couldn’t be. All of that information was in my file. The computer would catch any dangerous drug combinations, I was sure.

So, what was I missing?

I sighed and felt my thigh to see if the beeper was still there. The beeper was still there. Then I took out my iPhone from the other pocket. No bars. No reception. No calls. No Facebook. No news. 3:58 pm. I realized then that I had a teleconference with Chicago in two minutes and that there was no way on Earth I was going to get back to the office in time. I was going to miss my appointment. I rolled my eyes.

When I did that, I caught sight of the elevator indicator again. Moving things have a very mesmeric effect on my mind. I watched the elevator going up and down for a little while more—for ten more months, at least—until the buzzer buzzed in my pocket, shocking me back to Reality like a sudden collision with the sidewalk.

I blinked several times before I felt steady enough to get up and go over to the window where you pick up prescriptions.  

To arrive at that particular nightmare, you go through another glass door and around the corner from the window where you drop your prescriptions off.  

This pharmacist was pretty cute, too, but not quite as cute as the other one, I noticed, as I passed by the window and stood there, studying his face. In fact, they could have been identical twins. Except that the second fellow looked so much older than the first: apparently, the computer was down and this man had been arguing with the cadaver in front of him for the last nine years. And there were nine other mummies waiting to see him, each rather angrily enjoying a different stage of decomposition.

I left the line before I joined it. I wasn't scared by the mummies, of course, but I did mull over going back to my seat in the lobby, and watching the elevator lights again, until those curséd corpses had been disposed of by the whip-wielding, wise-cracking adventurer I knew must be on the way. (I was sure that somebody with a landline, somewhere, must have placed a call to South America.)  

But my seat was taken.

I am forty-four. And I really didn’t think it prudent to waste the next eighty-one years of my existence (9 x 9, see above) standing around; even if Dr. Obama (my missing Doctor) was already leaping into a seaplane in the Amazon basin with a fresh supply of his Incan anti-mummy vaccine; even if I could watch the elevator going up and down.

I had to be practical. I had to remember Chicago. And E.M. Forster. And you. And me. And the mummies. We might not be so lucky to live so long.

Instead, I decided to leave without my prescription. I knew that my drugs were ready, theoretically, and I guess that knowledge was almost prescription enough. I would return the beeper and come back later, when the mummies were gone.

Since I couldn’t find Carlos, I said, “Goodbye,” to my other friend, the young pharmacist who took my original prescription. I am not sure that he saw me. He seemed to be very involved with his iPhone, playing Angry Birds.

I took the train back to the office and sent a note of apology to my colleagues in Chicago about the meeting, mentioning my run-in with the mummies.  

I still haven’t heard back from Chicago.


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